Bipolar disorder is technically a type of depression, but is quite different than the mental image you may have of typical depressive symptoms. Bipolar depression, as the name suggests, consists of two opposite behaviors that somehow co-exist in the same person. There is no cure for this condition, but it does respond well to treatment. It will require management throughout a person's life, much like heart disease or diabetes.
The key feature of bipolar disorder is severe mood swings from deep depression to mania. The lows experienced are very similar to major depression. Depressive episodes commonly last about 14 days. A quick upward shift in mood marks the beginning of a manic episode. Along with this improvement in mood comes increased energy, decreased need for sleep and a burst of productivity. This may be accompanied by a feeling of euphoria. Sufferers of bipolar disorder rarely seek treatment during manic episodes.
However, while the patient may sense productivity and energetic activity, others view it as being dangerous and out of control. Manic episodes usually include becoming very talkative, extremely excitable and active to the point of exhaustion. There is also a tendency to engage in risky behaviors.
Bipolar disorder is a complex condition that is remarkably difficult to diagnose. People often endure this condition for years before being properly diagnosed. Although the cause is related to brain chemistry, the disorder tends to run in families, indicating a genetic link. The disorder is recurrent-meaning that once a person experiences a manic episode, there's a 90 percent chance they will experience another one.
The primary treatment for bipolar disorder is medication. A combination of medications seems to be the most effective treatment. Antidepressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizing agents and anti-convulsants are commonly prescribed to stop the wide mood swings that characterize this disorder. During a lifetime of treatment, it is expected that medications will need to be adjusted or changed altogether. One single prescription is unlikely to work the same way all the time. Psychotherapy is used in some cases, but is rarely effective without medication.
If left untreated, bipolar disorder can be particularly dangerous. From 15 to 17 percent of untreated cases end in suicide (compared to about 10 percent of untreated major depression sufferers).
Like most forms of depression, there is nothing that the individual sufferer did to deserve or cause bipolar disorder. There should be no stigma or embarrassment attached to having the condition. The most important thing is to seek treatment and begin managing the disorder as soon as possible.
Written by Jan Howard
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